“As the family of George Garlington Sr., we are proud to receive this honor on his behalf,” said Cecil Garlington to the audience gathered in the packed High Point Museum lecture gallery on Saturday. “I can just tell you that my father would be extremely proud if he was here. He would be overjoyed. Thank you very much for this honor.”
In 2011, President Barack Obama signed Public Law 112-59, an act to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines. That act means that every African-American man who trained at the segregated base in a swamp at Montford Point near Jacksonville, NC, between 1942 and 1949, and went on to serve in the United States Marine Corps, is eligible for this recognition.
Unfortunately, of the approximately 20,000 men who trained at Montford Point, most of whom are now deceased, only about 3,000 have been identified. On Saturday, five more were added to the honors list.
Craig Little (uniform) presents congressional gold medal to Cecil Garlington, Myrtle Garlington and Nora Garlington
Cecil Garlington and his sisters Myrtle Garlington and Nora Garlington McAdoo were presented with a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal by Craig Little, Chapter President of the Montford Point Marine Association of Charlotte.
“The Congressional Gold Medal is only bestowed on an event that happened in American History,” said Little. “There have only been four African-American military events in that history. The Army has two: the Buffalo Soldiers and the Women’s World War 2 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. The Air Force has the Tuskegee Airmen. And the United States Marine Corps has the Montford Point Marines.”
At that, the Marine battle cry “Oohrah!” echoed through the 1,350 square foot lecture gallery, which Ward 5 Council Member and USMC Sergeant Victor Jones told the crowd he’d never seen so full before.
Private First-Class George Henry Garlington Sr. enlisted on March 9, 1944, and was honorably discharged on Dec. 1, 1945. He resided in the Downing Street area of High Point and attended Mount Vernon Baptist Church. After the war, he returned to High Point and worked at Southern Railway for more than 40 years. He served as a Deacon and a Sunday School Superintendent at Mount Vernon Baptist Church and was President of First-Class George, the PTA at Leonard Street Elementary, and worked with the Democratic Party, the NAACP, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He died in High Point in 2005. His five children include retired Air Force Private First-Class George H. Garlington Jr., one of the William Penn High School students who staged the 1960 High Point Woolworth’s sit-in on Feb. 11, 1960.
Montford Point Marines at Iwo Jima
Upon receiving their official bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal, the Garlington family donated it to the High Point Museum. Also present, and recognized individually by name, were the families of four other deceased Montford Point Marines from High Point, who had all received their medals in 2017. The men recognized by those medals are:
Corporal James R. Burke, Sr., who was drafted on March 9, 1944, and honorably discharged on May 13, 1948. Corporal Artra Gilmore Sr., who enlisted on April 5, 1944, and was honorably discharged on May 17, 1946. Corporal Darius Thaxter McCoy, who enlisted on Dec. 13, 1943, and was honorably discharged in May 1946. Private William M. Spencer Jr., who enlisted on Nov. 4, 1943, and was honorably discharged on July 25, 1945.
Jones read aloud the following proclamation, which was signed by Mayor Jay W. Wagner, but which Jones said “we all worked on.”
WHEREAS, the opportunity for African Americans to enlist and serve in the United States Marine Corps arose in June 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 prohibiting racial discrimination in the United States Defense Industry; and
WHEREAS, despite discrimination and segregation approximately 20,000 African American men completed recruit training and became known as the Montford Point Marines; and
WHEREAS, The Montford Point Marines displayed valor and exemplary performance during battles such as Peleliu Battle, Iwo Jima Battle, the Chosin Reservoir Battle; and
WHEREAS, Public Law 112-59 was by the United States Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in 2011 to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Honor the Montford Point Marines; and
WHEREAS, the Montford Point Marines of High Point, NC assisted in the advancement of civil rights by paving the way for thousands of others to follow despite facing adversity and hardships; their strengths and perseverance to serve our Nation embodied the true spirit of Patriotism.
THEREFORE, as a grateful city, I, Jay W. Wagner, Mayor of the City of High Point, urge the citizens of High Point, NC, to join me in recognition of the contributions of the Montford Point Marines of High Point, NC to our nation and communities in which they reside.
“We are especially thankful for the families, and that you are here to be a part of and witness to this grand event,” said Rev. Angela Roberson, Pastor of Congregational United Church of Christ, who explained how the names of the veterans were discovered and recognized.
“I have a paternal aunt who was married to a Marine on the board of the Montford Point Association in the Jacksonville Onslow County area, and we were having a conversation, and after I got off the phone with her, it just kind of clicked. Were there any High Point men who served as Montford Point Marines?”
Roberson said she got in touch with Russ Ditzel, Coordinator of Military Veterans & Families Outreach at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, who in turn put her in touch with Gunnery Sergeant Tammy Williamson, USMC (Retired), who is Chapter President of the National Montford Point Marine Association Inc. NC Triad-Triangle Chapter 18 and Vice-Commander of the North Carolina Veteran’s Council. “Then I called my friend and local historian Phyllis Bridges, and we put together a committee and began to work to make this happen,” which they did with help of Jones.
“We are so honored that you are here,” said Roberson. “Because what they did was historical, impactful, and significant. Other Marines stand on their shoulders. It is Black History and is American History.”
When it was Williamson’s turn to speak, she became emotional.
“About three minutes before the program started, a gentleman came up to me and showed me a platoon picture of his grandfather. He just found out about the program this morning and he had to come because his grandfather was a Montford Point Marine. He’s from High Point, and of course we have to do the proper process, but the reason I bring this to your attention is because he just brought it home. Through this process, we round one, and we’re going to do the paperwork for another. They’ve only found roughly over 3,000, but that’s huge. Seventeen thousand more to go. We’re on a countdown.”
Training at Montford Point
Williamson pointed out that the men trained at Montford Point were not the first Black Marines in American history. She cited John Martin, also known as Keto, an enslaved African-American who in April 1776 joined the Continental Marines without the knowledge of the white man who claimed to own him, and served aboard the USS Reprisal until that Continental Navy vessel was sunk in 1777, with only the cook surviving.
“Of roughly 2,000 continental Marines, about 13 were African-American. But that’s the keyword, Continental.”
In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation allowed Black men into the Union Army and the Navy, but the Marine Corps excluded them until President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 in 1941, which Williamson called “a very, very important act that allowed African-Americans to enlist. But understand this, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Marine Corps was the last military branch to allow Blacks to enter, the last one.”
“I’ve heard some Montford Point Marines say, ‘I went up there to sign up for the Army, and they said no, I was in line for the Marine Corps. I’ve also heard them say ‘after I joined, I thought people would look at me differently in my uniform, I thought they would accept me now.’ I’ve also heard them say ‘I had to fight for the right to fight.’ Think about it. Who in the world has to fight for the right to fight?”
Retired USMC Gunnery Sergeant Madyun Shahid then walked among the audience members reciting a dramatic monolog taken from the testimony of Marines who had first joined the Corps at Montford Point and trained there between 1942 and 1949, when Montford Point Camp was decommissioned after President Truman’s Executive Order 9981 ended military segregation.
He then described how one wrote a letter to his wife explaining what he was willing to sacrifice, and she wrote back “I love you, make us proud.”
“After that,” wrote the unnamed Marine whose words Shahid was reciting, “the 20th field depot company landed on D-Day. It took us a minute to establish a foothold. They previously told us before we even left the ship, ‘you are the first Negros to see combat in the Marine Corps. What you do and how you perform will be the basis on how you and your race will be judged.’ We performed excellently. And then it was on to Peleliu. It was the 7th Ammunition and 11th Field Depot that joined that bloody battle, and whether they were unloading the ship, carrying ammunition to the front line, or evacuating the wounded, their performance warranted the highest praise.”
After that, recited Shahid, “all four of the Montford Point Companies served on Iwo Jima, where I was told the fighting was wild and crazy at night time, but by morning, two Black Marines, Private James Whitlock and James Davis, earned the Bronze Star.” Finally, over 2,000 Montford Point Marines saw combat at Okinawa, where he quoted one as saying, “if I could do this all over again, I would still do it as a Montford Point Marine.”
If you know of a veteran who could be a Montford Point Marine, whether alive or deceased, and they have not yet been officially recognized and honored as such, email President@NMPMA38.org or call (336)684-5524. For more information, visit www.NMPMA38.org.
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed o